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Eagles take down Oklahoma State in first round of NCAA Tournament

Eagles take down Oklahoma State in first round of NCAA Tournament
Karl Smesko watches during FGCU's first round game in the NCAA tournament against Oklahoma State. (EN Photo / Kelli Krebs)

Karl Smesko watches during FGCU’s first round game in the NCAA tournament against Oklahoma State. (EN Photo / Kelli Krebs)

TALLAHASSEE— The Florida Gulf Coast basketball team got over the first round hump against Oklahoma State University Saturday afternoon, 75-67.

“This is a very exciting time for us, we get our first Division I NCAA Tournament win,” FGCU head coach Smesko said. “We beat a very good team. I’m definitely proud of how we started the game we looked relaxed and confident. Oklahoma State posed a lot challenges for us, but we had a lot of players step up and you know obviously Kaneisha (Atwater) and Whitney (Knight) had big scoring games, but you know the whole team had to step up at different points and make plays and it was such a great team effort.”

Atwater led the Eagles with 26 points and Knight had a double double by adding 19 points and 10 rebounds.

“I definitely think we were more excited to play them because last year you know we lost by one point,” Atwater said. “When we found out that it was Oklahoma State we were like, ‘We’ve been here before.’ Our nerves were normal. We know this team. Let’s just come out and get a win. “

After losing last year 61-60 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Oklahoma State, FGCU came out strong Saturday afternoon by stretching out the lead in the first half to 11 with more than 10 minutes left in the game.

In a game with seven lead changes, the Eagles failed to hold onto the first half lead until charging back to charging back to a five-point halftime lead after a Jenna Cobb buzzer-beating layup.

The second half began with a back and forth battle without FGCU relinquishing the lead. With 7:20 left in the half, the Eagles went on a 12-0 run stretching the lead to 17, 71-54, the largest lead of the afternoon. FGCU never looked back and won its first NCAA tournament game in school history.

“Florida Gulf Coast is an excellent team, a well-coached team, that created a lot of matchup problems for us,” Oklahoma State head coach Jim Littell said. “We knew what was coming, but it was hard to simulate what they do, and we obviously didn’t do a good job in preparation.”

FGCU has won games in the Division II NCAA tournament even playing in the DII national title game in 2007, but this was the first win in three tries for the Eagles in Division I competition.

“This is definitely a highlight,” Smesko said. “We’ve had teams go to the national championship game in Division II and we’ve won a lot of big games over the years, but after losing twice in the first round in such heart-breaking ways- in overtime- to get the first-round win for the first time is definitely an exciting thing. It was great to see our kids celebrating and smiling with seven seconds left with a sense of accomplishment.”

The Eagles will take on the winner of Florida State/Alabama State on Monday at 6 p.m. in the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. The game will be on ESPNU.

“They (FSU) definitely have Final Four ability,” Smesko said. “It’s exciting for us to play one of the best teams in the country and see how we match up.”

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